Of course, he was also
Both Saddam and Suharto viciously repressed political opponents and ethnic minorities; both accumulated great personal wealth and handed down top security and economic positions to their children; both illegally annexed small neighbouring states:
While the 1991 Gulf War was waged in the name of liberating Kuwait (and restoring a monarchy that denied women the right to vote), the massacre of civilians later that year in East Timor’s capital, Dili, elicited no response from western media and no outcry from western politicians. During the two and a half decades of Indonesian occupation of
For all their similarities, then, the politics of empire intervened and led Saddam and Suharto to very different ends. The "butcher of
Back in the 1990s, the strongman in
And so it was that in 1997, when Vancouver hosted the APEC summit, Jean Chretien’s Liberal government rolled out the red carpet for the dictator, and dished out the pepper spray and riot squads on the activists who worked to expose Suharto’s gross human rights violations and Canada’s complicity.
Seeing this spectacle up close as an undergraduate provided me with an intense and valuable learning experience about the true nature of politics. Back in the quaint days before the "war on terror," our rights to freedom of speech, assembly and dissent were quickly – automatically, really, with the justifications made up on the fly – subordinated to the needs of capital.
All the high-sounding rhetoric of human rights from the likes of Axworthy disappeared in an instant when it came to appeasing a key business partner. Subsequent Liberal foreign affairs ministers, such as Bill Graham and Pierre Pettigrew, would up the ante from complicity to outright aggression when, for instance, Canada played a key role in overthrowing Haiti’s democratic government in 2004.
It’s worth noting too that, back in the 1990s, it was initially only very small networks of activists on the Left who worked to bring the plight of East Timor to the public’s attention in
At the time, the East Timor Alert Network (ETAN), with the help of the odd outspoken MP such as the NDP’s Svend Robinson, did the heavy lifting to expose the Liberals’ complicity with Suharto’s crimes.
A statement on ETAN’s
"To overcome Suharto’s legacy and to uphold basic international human rights and legal principles, those who executed, aided and abetted, and benefited from his criminal orders must be held accountable."
We can be sure that current Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and his Conservative colleagues will make some statements on Suharto’s death parroting whatever comes out of
But I’d really like to hear from the likes of Chretien and Axworthy. What do they have to say for themselves and what do they have to say now about the dictator that they aided, abetted, and protected from protest?
Derrick O’Keefe is the editor of rabble.ca.